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John Hood writes about decentralization, ShotSpotter, NC

RALEIGH — The Winston-Salem Police Department is using a commercial product called ShotSpotter, a network of audio sensors and software, to identify potential shooting incidents and respond more quickly.

Since its introduction in 2021, the system appears to have reduced the number of serious assaults and saved at least two lives of gunshot victims who would otherwise have bled out. Research by a team at Southern Illinois University estimated the equivalent of $5 million to $8 million in annual benefits to the city at a cost of $350,000 per year, an impressive return on investment. Winston-Salem officials currently plan to renew ShotSpotter when its initial three-year contracts expire later this year.

Their counterparts in the Bull City made a different decision. By a four-to-two vote, Durham City Council voted last month not to sign a three-year contract with ShotSpotter.

During a year-long trial, the product helped Durham reduce the average response time to confirmed shootings by 88 seconds and appears to have saved one life, according to a study by Duke University scientists. However, in most cases there is a ShotSpotter alert without After an accompanying 911 call, police were unable to verify that gunfire had actually occurred.

This last finding raised doubts among some opponents. “The data is inconclusive at this point,” said council member Javiera Caballero. “This is not a decision that I think is worth paying for.”

But for ShotSpotter supporter Mark-Anthony Middleton, mayor of Durham, the one life saved during the pilot was worth it. “It was only one year,” he said. “Who knows what would happen if it happened years from now?”

I’m inclined to think Middleton has the better argument here – and I’m concerned about evidence that some opposition to ShotSpotter is motivated by anti-police sentiment, rather than cost-effectiveness concerns – but my topic today is not the value of evidence. based policy making. It is the value of decentralization.

Traditionally, North Carolina has been a relatively centralized state. Since the 1930s, we have funded public schools primarily with state tax revenues, not local property taxes. Unlike most states, we do not have state highways. All highways and streets are directly managed by the state or maintained by municipalities with significant state support.

More generally, the places here do not have “home rule”. They are created by the state and exercise only the powers granted to them by the state legislature.

Newcomers often find this state of affairs surprising. In recent decades, they have often been at the forefront of efforts to give North Carolina’s counties and municipalities more autonomy. Such attempts have largely failed. And I must say that I myself was not particularly sympathetic to their cause.

Despite our lack of self-government and our centralized system for funding schools and roads, localities already possess the power to make many consequences over the way North Carolina residents live, work, travel and play.

The ShotSpotter case illustrates this point. A majority of elected officials in Durham decided not to keep the system in place. Charlotte made a similar decision a few years earlier. On the other hand, Winston-Salem leaders believe ShotSpotter’s public safety benefits are worth the cost. That includes leaders in Fayetteville, which started its own contract with ShotSpotter in October.

“This is another tool our Fayetteville Police Department will need to help solve crimes and ultimately keep our residents safe,” said Mayor Mitch Colvin. “The police will be able to respond to shootings more quickly and accurately. As a community, we are taking action to address the gun violence we are witnessing in our community.”

Whether to use a particular crime-fighting tool is and should be a local decision, not a state or federal mandate. As jurisdictions make different policy decisions over time and potentially experience different policy outcomes, government officials around the world will have more information about what seems to be working, what doesn’t seem to be working, and what questions remain unanswered.

And North Carolina residents, in turn, can vote with their feet. That is self-government in action.

John Hood is a board member of the John Locke Foundation. His latest books, Mountain people And Forest folkcombine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).